It’s easy to write about the things we enjoy, spending hours in the weeds, discussing every minute detail. But what about the things we don’t like? Is it possible to speak positively about something that isn’t for us? It’s a question I asked myself when I started writing the review for Pilgrims – a puzzle game for iOS.
There’s a trend in game design where studios create games without any tutorial or explanation of how things work. It is a silent agreement between developer and player that you will enjoy figuring out the game’s systems and mechanics. This agreement works for a game like Dark Souls, where there are enough things to do while you figure it out. But this isn’t Dark Souls. It’s a mobile game with limited room for exploration.
Pilgrims opens with a card game among friends, speaking a language similar to the parents of the Peanuts cartoon. After the card game you’re presented with a tent in the middle of the screen. Tap on it and the main character appears, waves, and then turns into a playing card. It was at this point that I unknowingly accepted the silent agreement. I would spend the first moments wondering aimlessly between four locations attempting to figure out just exactly what I was supposed to do.
In Pilgrims, the items and characters you acquire become playing cards. You must combine these cards to solve environmental puzzles. If a character wants a cooked meal you must combine various item cards to make that meal. Then you present him with the meal card. There’s more than one way to solve the puzzles, opening up new possibilities for the cards you collect. The game promotes playing through the’ story’ multiple times. However, with such a small area of puzzles to solve it begins to feel like the movie Groundhog Day.
There’s a famous Tik Tok video of a woman tasting Kombucha for the first time. It’s precisely how I felt playing Pilgrims. At first, I found the gameplay and lack of explanation frustrating. And when I finally completed the game, I thought, “that’s it?” Yet, the next day I was thinking about the game. “Maybe if I combined this card with this one….” And there I was, playing again, discovering new depths of the cards I acquired while still wondering if it was the game for me. In the end, I walked away appreciative of the experience but not needing another round of cards.